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Skeptic’s Circle

September 15th, 2005 | 3 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Jim has been hard at work putting together this week’s Skeptic Circle. While not normally a reader, I was led to it by my habitual reading of his blog. The presentation is ingenious–we’ve come to expect from that from Jim. It makes me wonder: what happened to Smarter than I?

Found in the midst of the rabble-rousing was this post on philosopher of science’s Michael Ruse’s interview with Salon (free day-pass required) where he discusses issues from his new book. While obviously no friend of intelligent design, Ruse’s position is simply that both intelligent design and evolution are ‘worldviews’ that operate essentially as religions. Some excerpts (which are all Ruse’s words):

Inasmuch as the creationists want to say openly that both sides are making religious commitments, I have to agree with them on that. I don’t think that modern evolutionary theory is necessarily religious. Evolutionary theory was religious, and there’s still a large odor of that over and above the professional science. The quasi-religious stuff is still what gets out into the public domain, whether it’s Richard Dawkins or Edward O. Wilson or popularizers like Robert Wright. Certainly Stephen Jay Gould. Whether you call it religious or philosophical, I would say these people are presenting a weltanschauung.
What I find particularly troublesome is the extent to which evolutionists and Darwinians say, oh no, we’re doing science, and if you do this you have to be an agnostic at minimum, and preferably an atheist. I want to say, “Hang on, if the position implies this, then aren’t you taking what I would want to argue is a religious stand — namely, there ain’t no God?” My position is that there isn’t a necessary connection between Darwinism and atheism.
I think [creationism’s] certainly got a deeper and more consistent philosophy or metaphysics than simply just ad-hoc making it up as you go along. Whether I think it’s a good position or not, I think it’s a deeply rooted premillennial view of life.
Look, I want to make it absolutely clear that I want to understand creationism, not endorse it. It’s important for us evolutionists to understand what is motivating creationists. Why do people hold these prima facie lunatic views? Which I think they are.
I see the sacrifices [intelligent design advocates] make. William Dembski [the mathematician and philosopher who is among the I.D. movement’s intellectual stars] is a very bright guy who should have been able to get a very good job, and he’s reduced to going off to some theological tinpot college in Tennessee or something [actually, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.]. Paul Nelson hasn’t got a regular job. They’re making sacrifices for their faith. While I think their position is terrible, I don’t see them as evil people. I don’t see them as Hitlers. They’re caught up in an appalling, idiosyncratic American religion. So they’re not the first.

Also interesting are the comments from the post where I found Ruse’s interview:

Okay – science and theology can never directly contradict one another, since science can only consider nature and God, by definition, is outside nature. Fine – but then what is theology, exactly? The study of something that can’t be studied? Inquiry into something that can’t be inquired into? Research in a subject that is incapable of being researched? An ology that has no ology? It has to be. Because if ‘God’ is by definition outside of nature, then we (who are well and truly inside nature) don’t and can’t – by definition – know anything or find out anything about it. Obviously.

The commenter reminds me why I love theology–because it admits that man has a transcendental aspect to him, that he actually is able to know Him who is ‘beyond nature’ (whatever ‘nature’ is). God’s existing outside space and time only means renders Him unknowable if we are limited to knowing things that exist in space and time. Once again, we meet the tyranny of the empirical.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.